Ukulele Clubs: sing, strum, socialize

It doesn’t take long to learn to play a few basic chords on the ukulele and join an uke club to strum, sing, and socialize. No other instrument allows the beginner to practice playing in the relaxed company of others and travel the world with it.


Or  “play, pluck, and party”

Or “jam, jingle, and joviality”

As an ukulele enthusiast, I consider the existence of so-called ukulele clubs a golden perk of playing the ukulele. I don’t know of any clubs for other instrumentalists that welcome beginners to jam with more advanced players. Perhaps barbershop quartets or multi-instrumental jam sessions may allow for that, but how common are they really? The ukulele clubs’ tradition of group playing is a fun way to push myself to learn new chords and expand my repertoire. I can’t think of a better way to combine practice with socialization.

Continue reading “Ukulele Clubs: sing, strum, socialize”

Positive feedback

Satisfied tenants leave positive feedback after staying in a house full of classical music and excellent feng shui in London. The house is now available for rent.

This compact Victorian cottage has excellent feng shui and a history of house concerts that made the neighborhood a community. Shortly before I left London, I set up the Neighborhood Watch which became a resident association. Soon I will experience that familiar feeling of “coming home” once more.  Below are examples of positive feedback from satisfied tenants.

Garden at Victorian Cottage in London
Historians from Canada and USA, October – November 2008  The house was lovely, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a proper home. I’ve been researching with much less comfortable housing for the past three weeks and I definitely miss it.Thanks again for everything. I’ve really loved staying in your house. It’s a wonderful place.
Medical doctor, nurse, and young daughter (3) from Alaska,
Jan – July 2008
We are going to have so many fun memories. Icing on the cake to a great sabbatical in London. Thank you so much.
Family of four from New Zealand: grandparents & two grandchildren (10 & 12),
July 2006
We would recommend it to anyone considering renting the house! We were all very happy there and enjoyed our holiday immensely.The cottage is ideally situated – sunny and comfortable. Quiet location – handy to all facilities. The house is very well equipped – everything we needed for a family stay. We had a most enjoyable time and, although it was only for three weeks, the house was soon referred to as “home” – such was the pleasant atmosphere that has been created.
Family of four from abroad,
We took a long let (18 months) at this lovely property and have not regretted it for one minute. The house has an ambience that makes it a home. We have two small children and there was plenty of space for them to play in the living room, the dining room and the tiled, walled garden with its gorgeous camellia.It was lovely in summer or winter to stroll in Fielding Walk, which the back garden overlooks, while the close proximity of Lammas and Walpole Parks were such an advantage for the children. The play centre in Lammas Park is a wonderful free resource and close by Fielding School has a great reputation.

Street parking has never been a problem and the tube is just a few minutes walk away, great for getting to Heathrow or going to the West End for a night. The local shops were a few minutes walk away and bigger supermarkets just 15-20 minutes walking or a short bus ride.

We felt like we were living in caring community where neighbours are neighbourly, helpful and friendly and our landlady, Anne, very easy to get along with.

Thanks so much Anne and Robert. When we are settled back in our home country, please come and visit us.

French/Chinese couple (30’s) with 6 year old son, January 2004  We stayed in Anne’s house for five weeks before moving to our own.Anne’s house is lovely and comfortable, especially the very bright kitchen with a view to the garden.The house is in a quiet and convenient area (for those who take the tube).

We really made ourselves feel at home in Anne’s house, partly because Anne is a very nice and understanding landlady (not easy to find in London)!!

3rd generation Irish
single, harpist, 40’s
As always, one instinctively knows within minutes of walking in the front door, whether or not a house would be a happy place to make your home. On my first visit to Anne’s home, I instantly knew that this house had been given much love, care and attention over the years.The nice exceptionally clean and bright dining room and kitchen are very romantic. The rear walled garden is where we had the most rememberable barbecue last summer, I remember playing harp in the garden after the party till the early hours. The house is in such a quiet road, I slept so well and felt I was on holiday there !
single, pianist, 20’s,
Sept-Dec 2003
Anne’s house is a haven of peace and tranquility, the kitchen is modern and very cosy and the antique wooden floors and white walls make the whole house very furbished and very clean with a rich Victorian feel. I loved staying there, there’s lots of room, lots of people could stay as there are 2 bedrooms and a completely furnished loft. You won’t find another house like this that you can rent in Ealing.The garden is very peaceful and extremely well kept and has the been the scene of many garden parties and barbeques. Everyone who has stayed there, including me, have felt disappointed to leave.
single, pianist, late 30’s
Anne’s house offers the perfect ambience after a busy day in London. Situated down a pretty tree-lined avenue, the 10 minute walk from the tube station is well worth the effort.Inside there is everything you need: a well equipped kitchen, spacious dining room and lounge, quiet comfortable bedrooms and a modern stylish bathroom. The house is also within easy reach of late night convenience stores, restaurants and take aways.

Getting close to 94,000

Whenever visitor numbers gets to the next 1,000, I am compelled to write something.

Whenever the total number of visitors inches towards the next notch of 1,000, I feel an urge to write a blog post.

Somehow, knowing that I can influence my blog statistics gives me a sense of urgency and power.

But the visitors that arrive at the Concertblog are not necessarily lured by the latest blog post. There is a time lag. Search engines drive the traffic here.

Originally this blog was intended to chart the adventures of our piano guitar duo as we travel and perform in Europe, USA, and Asia.

Except, we are now on sabbatical.

Robert is pursuing his doctorate in the musical arts (DMA, for short) at the New England Conservatory in Massachusetts. I am teaching piano and running a electric vehicle project in Hawaii. We don’t get to perform or rehearse together.

You can find our music online in video format (youtube) and discography.

Below is probably one of our earliest rehearsals captured on video — in Ealing, London, 2003.

Piano and guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins

Anne Ku’s high school friend Rob Judkins painted his vision of piano and guitar in acryllic for the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo’s next CD: Live in Makawao, Maui.

I have not seen or spoken to my friend Robby Judkins, as he was called then, since our graduation from Kubasaki High School in Okinawa. His Japanese wood cut print “Kokoro Kara” still hangs in my London home, reminding me of his extraordinary talent for creating something beautiful. It was Keats who said “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Everyone who has visited or stayed in that Victorian Cottage in Ealing has seen and experienced the beauty that Robby created.

Kokoro kara by Robby Judkins
Kokoro kara wood block print by Robby Judkins

“Kokoro kara” means from the heart. When one creates from the heart, one shares what one feels. I have often wondered about the Japanese wood block print. What were the two figures looking at? What was Robby’s inspiration?

Many years later, I found Robby on Facebook as Rob Judkins. Glancing through his photo album, I saw that he has continued to paint with a clear development into his own style.

I was relieved to see this, for I had heard of too many adults who gave up pursuing their childhood hobby or passion. I nearly did, only to return to music to find myself again. In doing so, I also remembered my dream to be free to travel the world.

I daresay that I am extremely privileged to be on Rob Judkin’s private mailing list — as a recipient of his latest works of art by e-mail.

His latest work is a colourful vision of piano and guitar. Although Rob Judkins has not heard or seen us perform, he has imagined it well. Our music is very exciting –as though the strings fly off the guitar and keys pop out the piano. We always get an adrenaline rush when we play.

Piano and Guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins (2011)
Piano and Guitar in acryllic by Rob Judkins (2011)

The painting is 32″x48″ acrylic on boxed panel. Rob Judkins calls it “Anne’s instruments” since it was painted specifically for the Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo and the purpose of an album cover. It will be on the cover of our next CD: Makawao Live — a recording of our first public concert in the USA — at the Makawao Union Church in Maui on 29th December 2007.

When asked what inspired him to paint this, Rob wrote, “I wanted to do something different from your last album cover which by the way I thought was very beautiful, highly styled and cool. But this image is free and uninhibited, a feeling of anything goes…..guitar strings popping and piano keys flying. The instruments are alive. Its like the feeling of the music flowing through your body.”

Rob Judkins loves to paint. The majority of his paintings are in acrylics but he has many oils and some water colors. He has a range of sizes from 8″x10″ canvas to pieces as large as a 36″x80″. The majority of his work is hanging at D’Allens Salon and the Columbus Hospice, in Columbus, GA and some pieces at the Joseph House Art Gallery in Columbus, GA.

Rob spent a year and a half at Auburn University School of Arts but changed his career to the school of business. His passion for the arts still drives him to create and achieve interest and quality in his work. He spent his high school years in Okinawa, Japan taking Chinese painting and Japanese wood block printing classes. That influence can be seen in some of his work. Rob likes a wide variety of styles in painting. He will strive to paint a realistic landscape or an abstract painting. He says it doesn’t matter what the results as long as it speaks to someone or provokes a feeling in the individual viewer he has accomplished his purpose.

Rob Judkins’ art portfolio can be viewed from his website at 

Sight reading chamber music in Bristol

It began with 4-hands on one piano. What is more fun than playing with others? To play as equals — such as in an ensemble or orchestra. After all these adventures in sight reading, I asked myself, why not piano and string quartet? or Piano and string trio? There was a lot more music to be explored.

It began with 4-hands on one piano. That was my treat at the end of the academic year when my piano teacher at Duke University would sight read duets with me.

What is more fun than playing the piano (or any other instrument)? To play with someone else.

What is more fun than playing with someone else? To play with more than one person.

I had accompanied singers, flute players, violinists, trumpet players, but these were not the same as playing together with someone else.

Then I met Robert Bekkers in Amsterdam and discovered the joy of playing together as equals. In London, I recruited musicians to play for house concerts I’d organise everytime Robert was coming to visit. It became a ritual: flute, bassoon, violin, viola, cello, guitar, piano, and voice.

What is more fun than playing with others? To play as equals — such as in an ensemble or orchestra.

In Utrecht, we explored and performed new works for piano, guitar, and violin. In Amsterdam, we gave a concert of piano, guitar, and cello. In London, Robert performed Boccherini’s guitar quintet with a string quartet in a memorial tribute concert for Ayyub Malik. In Taiwan, Robert played Tedesco’s guitar quintet with a string quartet after I tried several piano trios with violin and cello.

In mid-July, I completed my duos with violin — Brahms horn trio, Mendelssohn piano trio number 1, and Piazzolla trios. It was a different way to communicate, not through words but through music. We were engulfed in the powerful sound of chamber music.

After all these adventures in sight reading, I asked myself, why not piano and string quartet? or Piano and string trio? There was a lot more music to be explored.

I was eager to visit a violin and viola couple whom I met years ago after their orchestral concert in Ealing. I had crashed their post-concert home-catered party (for the orchestra members) and discovered a world of amateur musicians who loved music as much as they loved gourmet cooking. Their lifestyle of chamber music, fine cuisine, travel, and annual homage to Dartington Festival inspired me greatly.

They had set up the Ealing Chamber Music Club before moving to Bristol. In early August, I finally got a chance to visit them. They gave me a tour of their magnificently renovated Georgian house. The best room was undoubtedly the music room which featured a beautiful Yamaha C3 (conservatory) grand piano and several violins.

Each evening a different cellist joined us to play Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, and Mendelssohn. Afterwards we wined and dined (on home-cooked gourmet meals of home-grown organic vegetables). This was how sight reading chamber music became my latest addiction.

Music room in Georgian house in Bristol
Music room in Georgian house in Bristol

Impromptu barbecue and concert for Ayyub Malik’s 75th birthday

A successful barbecue depends on the weather. An art exhibition doesn’t. Neither does a solo guitar concert. I invited everyone to walk to the back garden to give a toast. This was how I remembered Ayyub’s birthday parties: highly diverse group of interesting people from all walks of life.

Having experienced house concerts and art exhibitions in private spaces, I wanted to organise an art exhibition and a concert in my London home. I wanted to do a lot during a short period of time in which too much had to be done.

A successful barbecue depends on the weather. An art exhibition doesn’t. Neither does a solo guitar concert.

I reserved Friday the 13th of August just to tempt fate. I didn’t invite anybody in case I had no time to prepare for this event.

When it came close to the 13th, I checked with the London Ealing-based artist Yousif Naser if he was still game to participate. I checked with Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers if he wanted to give a short concert. I checked the weather forecast.

We moved the date to Saturday 14th August for more barbecue-friendly weather. I then invited my friends by phone, e-mail, skype, and facebook.

It rained all morning and what-looked-like all afternoon. Jetlagged travelers from outside of London would surely be dissuaded from venturing into town.

Set-up in back garden of Victorian cottage London for barbecue
Set-up in back garden of Victorian cottage London for barbecue

First to arrive were Ian and Julie who landed from New York and Boston the same morning. Next were my Colombian friends who were still recovering from their trip to China. By the time my German professor friend showed up, complaining of jet lag from Montreal, the diversity index had soared: Scots, American, Colombian, German, English, French, Iraqi, Dutch, and me. Total 13 people.

I invited everyone to walk to the back garden to give a toast. This was how I remembered Ayyub’s birthday parties: highly diverse group of interesting people from all walks of life. He was the leader and the centre of attention. “I would like to give a toast to Ayyub Malik, who would have been 75 today.”

Painting by Ayyub Malik, 2005
Painting by Ayyub Malik, 2005

Sunset in Ealing London with solo guitar

With my mobile phone, I recorded Robert Bekkers playing Tarrega’s famous Requerdos d’Alhambra. It was the last time I’d enjoy my garden with live music this year.

Beyond my garden, a park and a school
Beyond my garden, a park and a school

I invited my neighbour Inge to see my garden before the adjoining fence got replaced. We sat down among the rubbish and debris to enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange and mango juice at sunset.

It had been more than six months since I last visited her. I wanted to tell her about our adventures in Spain, Belgium, and our forthcoming trips to Paris and Crete. As we recalled fondly the garden concert of June 2001, “Summer Solstice” and July 2002, “Spanish Summer Soiree,” Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers appeared.

Before the new fence was installed, my garden seemed boundless.
Before the new fence was installed, my garden seemed boundless.

“Bring your guitar down,” I begged.

“I’m still practising upstairs,” he protested.

“But it’s so nice out here,” I pleaded. “Give us a concert!”

He went indoors and brought out a bottle of beer instead of a guitar.

“Aren’t you going to play something?” I asked.

“First I’m going to take a break.”

Fence in progress in garden of Victorian Cottage London Ealing
Fence in progress in garden of Victorian Cottage London Ealing

He had boldly gone to the Great British Beer Festival the night before, which he regarded as the highlight of his working holiday week in London. I had brought him to London to inspect my Victorian cottage and fix anything that I couldn’t fix. [“Which,” exclaimed the guitarist, “is everything you can find.”]

Complaining that he did not have the proper tools, he asked me to hire a builder to repair the outside pipes, remove and replace the garden fences, and replace the kitchen drains. Between numerous minor chores, he tried to find time to practise while I fretted about the paperwork.

Inge interjected. “Let him have his beer, Anne. I should be going soon.”

“Don’t go yet,” I said. “I want to hear what his guitar sounds like out here. How often do you get to see across to my neighbour’s garden?”

Robert Bekkers in London Ealing
Robert Bekkers in London Ealing

With my mobile phone, I recorded Robert Bekkers playing Tarrega’s famous Requerdos d’Alhambra. It was the last time I’d enjoy my garden with live music this year.


The two builders returned the next morning to finish installing the adjoining hard-wood fence, a luxury beyond my imagination. These fences were unlike any other in this quaint neighbourhood of Victorian cottages.

With very little time left, Robert fixed the laundry lines in parallel while I cleaned the mahogany parquet floors. There was hardly enough time to pack and rush for the airport. The walk to the nearest Piccadilly tube station was compromised by having to pull an overweight suitcase containing two 4-packs of English West Country ciders, numerous second-hand sheet music and travel guides to Italy. And that was how we missed our flight back to Amsterdam.

The garden with new fence in London Ealing
The garden with new fences in London Ealing